Judiciary advances circuit court nominee after bitter fight over serial-killer case

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted along partisan lines
Thursday to advance a circuit court judicial nominee who drew strong GOP
criticism after voicing empathy for a convicted serial killer.

The committee voted 11 to 7 to advance Connecticut’s Robert
Chatigny’s nomination to the 2nd Circuit Court to the full Senate.

{mosads}Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) was present but
declined to vote for or against Chatigny after Republicans blasted the nominee
for what they called his “long history of extreme leniency in criminal sentencing.”

Democrats defended Chatigny as a “well-respected” district
court judge and cited the support of three former U.S. attorneys for the
District of Connecticut appointed by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W.

Republicans argue that Chatigny has taken judicial empathy
to an extreme and let his personal views color his legal opinions.

The opposition has focused on Chatigny’s conduct in a case
against Michael Ross, a serial killer who admitted to murdering eight women.

Chatigny said Ross’s sexual sadism was a mitigating factor
in the case after Ross claimed that his sex drive had become fused with violent

Republicans have highlighted Chatigny’s statement that Ross
should “never have been convicted. Or if convicted, he never should have been
sentenced to death.”

Chatigny said Ross “may be the least culpable, the least, of
people on death row.”

Chatigny issued several stays of Ross’s execution and
pressured Ross’s defense attorney not to drop further appeals in the case. Ross
was eventually put to death.

“This judge demonstrated the case were about him and not
about the victims or the defendant,” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said after the
mark-up Thursday.

Conservative advocacy groups such as FRC Action, the
lobbying arm of the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America,
have also weighed in against Chatigny.

Democrats rebutted the GOP arguments by arguing that
Chatigny’s sentences have not deviated from federal guidelines any more than
most judges.

Between 2005 and 2009, Chatigny’s sentences fell below
federal guidelines in 34.5 percent of his criminal cases, according to Senate
Judiciary Committee data. Other judges on his district court fell below federal
guidelines in 32.2 percent of criminal cases.

Democrats also noted that in Chatigny’s 15 years as a
federal judge, the government hasn’t appealed any of his sentences.

Democrats also appointed to a strong letter of support from
three GOP-appointed Department of Justice Officials: Alan Nevas, U.S. Attorney
for District of Connecticut from 1981 to 1985; Kevin O’Connor, U.S. Attorney
for Connecticut from 2002 to 2008; and Stanley Twardy, Jr., U.S. Attorney for
Connecticut from 1985 to 1991.

Even Coburn recognized that Chatigny was “not out of line
with the rest of the judges” when he questioned him at a hearing.

But Coburn said Chatigny’s record was still troubling.

“This is judicial activism and it’s concerning,” he said.

Tags Dianne Feinstein Tom Coburn

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